12 Important Steps for Self-Editing; An Author & Writer’s Checklist


ebook-e-book-ipad-tablet

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is arguably no substitute for engaging a professional editor or proofreader, however, self-editing is an essential exercise for all authors and writers. Developing skills to facilitate thorough content analysis and correction/revision is the first phase in fine-tuning a book manuscript or document before its editorial and proofreading analysis and publication or audience distribution.

With each successive round of proofreading the fewer the errors to be addressed in the final analysis. This process not only helps to reduce the degree of correction and revision by a professional editor but also lends to a refinement of writing skills of the author from a developmental and grammatical perspective.

Hiring a proofreader and/or editor is a critical stage of the pre-publication process that will help to ensure that your book manuscript is clear, concise, and as error-free as humanly possible and reads with a consistent flow and progression. After all, the primary objective for the author is to ensure that their purchasing readership has an exceptional and satisfying reading experience.

Start with an Online Spellchecker and/or Grammar Tool

There is numerous spelling and grammar analysis software on the market and MS Word even has their own built-in tool found at the very first of a series of related document ‘review’ functions across the top of the MS Word document window under the ‘Review’ tab. One click of the ‘Spelling & Grammar’ tool tab and the software will scan through the entire document, underlining spelling and grammar issues that require further review and changes as necessary. Grammarly.com is one such online tool which offers a host of resources to educate users on proper English language applications.

Apply this built-in tool before doing any proofreading and editing rounds. This will alleviate many typical issues right up front and allow you to focus your greatest attention on analyzing and revising with optimum efficiency and accuracy.

The spelling and grammar check should be considered the author/writer’s first step toward producing a quality, clean product with a professional presentation. This is important not only to the paying product purchaser but also to the publishing company whose critical mandate is to ensure a high-quality product is being distributed through the various retail outlets that will market your book. Even as a business professional distributing communications documents internally or externally for business purposes, the cleaner your content presents the better the reading audience’ perceptions will be and how they respond moving forward.

Pause Before Commencing to Proofread

There is a tendency to rush through the proofing process in order to meet personal or professional deadlines for publication or distribution of books or documents to their intended audience. Writing can be a long and exhaustive process in itself and it is easy to develop a habit of glazing over the essential proofreading and editing process.

After concluding the writing of your content, stop! Take a break by stepping away from the finished content for a number of days or even weeks. Come back to your work with fresh eyes and clear focus as the proofreading exercise is a painstaking, exacting process that you cannot afford to rush.

Proofreading and editing is a multi-round process. It cannot be executed effectively in one round of re-reading. You will be checking for typos, spelling errors, poor grammatical application, sentence composition issues, sentence fragmentation whereby words are inadvertently missed or as written from a conversational perspective that result in confusing, inconsistent idea or storyline flow.

The bigger picture to watch for carefully is the ‘developmental’ aspects of your content. Is there a consistent and fluid progression of the story or presentation of ideas throughout? Are the paragraphs consistent in length and spaced for easy readability? Are character and location details consistent throughout? Research exactly what to watch out for in the various elements of content development as the intent in this article is not to be exhaustive to that end.

Seek the Opinion of Others

Having referred to the proofreading and editing process as ‘painstaking’ and ‘exacting’ here previously, to be more precise the task of checking content for evident errors or inconsistencies goes to the checking of every single word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph individually and as they relate to prior and subsequent content as well. If storyline or thought processes are expressed in a haphazard manner, your readers will become confused and easily frustrated that the content was ill-conceived and not thoroughly evaluated before publication and distribution.

As the author of your own content development, there is a tendency to be overconfident about that content and during self-editing, it is easy to glaze over your content and miss errors or discrepancies. As such, it is a wise next step to seek the assessment of your content through the scrutiny of others who are not so closely attached to the work. Ask friends, a colleague at work, people who work as manuscript or content ‘reviewers’ or relevant online forum groups. Fellow writers will also help in this supportive role. You may wish to offer a gift incentive for reviewers’ efforts such as a free copy of the published product or other forms of reward.

Read Your Content Out Loud

This sounds like an odd suggestion yet when your content is read back out loud you will audibly detect unusual sounding sentence elements that trigger an immediate question in your mind. You will hear elements that do not make sense. You will hear awkward word choices and word duplication that need attention. Sentence structure is important. For many, hearing a voice, perhaps even their own voice, as they read content, will trigger the same reaction.

Learn in Advance Guidelines for Proper Grammar and Punctuation

Before you can sit down to a thorough and accurate proofread and edit of your content, you need to make sure you possess the knowledge base to do so. Research thoroughly online and/or take courses at a local college or other facility offering such study programs. Punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and grammar are complex disciplines. As a professional editor, I see these skill sets lacking in the textual content that I am engaged to review.

Many of the online resources are even free of charge. Grammarly.com is an effective app that can be installed to your internet toolbar and when developing content online the software does real-time analysis and colored underlining of words and sentence elements that require attention. It will provide suggestions for possible changes where the software may not be fully clear on the issue in some cases. Be sure to download and install the Grammarly app designed for your browser.

Prepare a Checklist of Common Content Issues

You know better than anyone what your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of your written English content. Maybe you tend to use incorrect word variations such as ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, ‘then’ vs. ‘than’, ‘they’re’ or ‘their’ or ‘there’, ‘its’ or ‘it’s’; the list is lengthy. Have your prewritten list of your own typical spelling and grammatical issues at the ready and do a round of proofreading specifically checking for only those types of issues.

Avoid Editing While Writing

As an author or writer, your first priority is exceptional content for the intended reader or audience. Your first inclination may be to edit during your content writing process. That is a risky practice at best as doing so becomes very disruptive to the writing thought processes and could very well diminish the quality of your writing as a result.

Get your storyline or message ‘down on paper’ as it were, whether writing on or offline. That is your first priority. Worry about the tidy up after the entire content has been written and thoroughly examined under the microscope for the proofreading phase of the project. With online publishing today we have the advantage of being able to revise our manuscript and republication as a second or third edition but why leave ourselves hanging by attempting to achieve content writing and editing simultaneously; it just doesn’t serve to establish the best possible content.

Capitalization

Capitalization is one of the most common issues I find when proofreading for clients. As with punctuation errors, I see a predominant habit among authors/writers to ‘guess’ where punctuation and capitalization should apply. This becomes even more evident when their application of both is inconsistently applied.

The use of capitals is typically reserved for proper names of people, places or things as identifiers specific to the individual or place/thing of reference. Reference to governmental positions or bodies of jurisdiction are often confused and if in doubt the next step is to search online to verify proper term usage and capitalization.

It should also be noted here, too, that if an author or writer does not have a solid grasp of proper applications in this regard, with haphazard discrepancies frequenting content, the correction of such issues can be time-consuming which will also translate into greater client cost for the hired editor to correct.

Printing, Line Ruler and Visual Alteration Techniques

Developing differing techniques to increase your focus level and accuracy during the proofreading process will go a long way toward refining your process with greater efficiency and eliminating missed issues.

Many authors and editors alike find that the eye simply does not catch all discrepancies when viewing content on your computer monitor. Some find that printing the entire manuscript of content and physically checking and marking the content is easier with less tendency of missing repetitive issues.

Still, others will alter the font size and even change the font face type as viewed on their computer screen as a means to proof their work more closely. When you adjust such dynamics of textual content to other than what you are accustomed to applying and reading, this practice will force a greater level of close scrutiny to find discrepancies in your content.

Another favorite practice is to place a straight rule beneath each line of content as you progress down the page. In doing so, you cover content immediately below the line you are reading and thereby facilitating complete focus only on the line being read.

These techniques may, at first, result in a slower, more intense review process but will also increase efficiency and accuracy after repeated use.

Multiple Rounds of Proofing and Editing

Authors and editors alike must be aware and understand the critical importance of multiple rounds of proofreading and editing. When hiring an editor and or proofreader, it should be understood and accepted, as an established professional editorial practice industry-wide, that the editing and proofreading practices will require a multiple of rounds to do so.

Depending on the degree of proofing and or editing desired or required, it should be anticipated and agreed upon in advance by both parties to an editing services contract that three (3) to four (4) rounds of complete content review shall form the basis for acceptable services standard, and more or less rounds depending on a number of factors relating to content issues that will allow for or demand more or less review and revision.

It is suggested that the best practice before an editor or proofreader is hired is for the author/writer to provide a specified amount of representative content to the service provider, i.e. several pages or one or two chapters, as specified in advance, in order to give the editor/proofreader an advance read of the author/writer’s content to determine the extent of analysis and revision that will be required.

There should also be agreed upon flexibility written into this element of a service agreement such that any significant change in content editing requirements not anticipated or evident through the content sample provided will necessitate a greater scope of work and related cost adjustments to bring the content to the desired professional state of presentation. This situation may not occur often but should be a reasonable contingency in the event that such problematic content arises.

Consider, also, that the editing and proofreading processes are two distinctly separate exercises with a focus on different elements of the project content. Proofreading is primarily to address issues relating to typos, spelling and grammatical/punctuation errors and sentence composition concerns.

Editing, on the other hand, is a comprehensive analysis and revision of the bigger picture of content development, also known and referred to as ‘developmental editing’. Editing also examines stylistic consistency as well as a logistical reference such as character and location/geographical development, the accuracy of language, flow, readability, clarity, and a consistent progression of storyline or message delivery front to back.

Style Guide Applications

There are numerous editions of ‘style guides’ published today and found online as well. They serve to guide writers and editorial professionals for proper applications of style, usage, and grammar. Such style guides have been established in various countries around the world and reputed as the reference of choice for consistent textual content development standards. There is a multiple of style guides designed specifically for various formats of writing.

Digesting the content of such guides can be complex but more and more authors and writers are acquiring these reference guides in order to bring a professional standard with consistency to their written works. The advantages of doing so serve not only the writer/author but also, ultimately, their reading audience as well.

Neither editing nor proofreading services incorporate rewriting or entire writing (i.e. ghostwriting) services. That is not the focus of these professional hires. They are hired on the basis of content analysis and suggested revisions only.

Can I Not Just Use Editing Software? Why Hire an Editor as Well?

Clients must be aware that content analysis software currently being retailed is NOT 100% accurate in terms of textual proofreading and editing. There are numerous aspects of the complex written English language that such software is not able to fully recognize as a contextual or grammatical error. When reviewing ‘suggested changes’ highlighted by the software, it becomes clearly evident that the software is ‘unclear’ on any given number of grammatical or spelling issues it gives reference to for suggested changes and their analysis in those instances is incorrect.

As such, the client is left with difficult and often confusing decisions as to the correct content changes necessary, if any, in those instances. For that reason, authors/writers should never rely solely on spelling and grammar check software applications. It is still essential that a proofreader and or editor be engaged to undertake the final content analysis on the client’s behalf to ensure that the end result is a product that meets professional quality standards as free of error as humanly possible.

Publishing companies are also highly expectant that book manuscripts submitted for publication meet their own high standards. Their first priority is to ensure that the products they retail are high quality for the purchasing consumer. Their revenues are clearly at stake as well as the author’s income. The bottom line is that happy readers become devout, repeat customers when they can rely on great story delivery with quality finishing touches for their investment!

How to Decide Between Self-Editing and Hiring a Professional Editor


Pen on white backgroundShould You Self-Edit or Hire a Professional?

As an author or writer, a business professional, marketing or advertising expert, you have created a book manuscript, document or promotional copy that will soon be published or otherwise distributed to its targeted audience. You have a daunting task: Do you perform the proofreading and/or editing exercise independently and release your content for public consumption/purchase or do you hire a professional textual editor/proofreader to execute this phase that will bring your content to its critical and polished best presentation?

Decision Factors

That is a loaded question and not one that you should take lightly. Consider these factors very carefully when making that decision:

  • Are you publishing your content for retail purposes?
  • Who is your targeted audience and does that audience include the potential for business revenue development?
  • Is this your first of such published/distributed materials or one of many and what has your audience response been so far? Has your content been response-driven? What is the metrics of reader response indicating to date? Have your documents or published materials performed as anticipated? Did your results meet or exceed your objectives?
  • Has your audience response in terms of actions taken been measurable and as intended? If not, what will you have to do to change your audience response?

When you are creating content for a company and/or client project or for direct revenue purposes, there is a considerable amount of pressure (internal/external) for optimum results in terms of the foregoing questions, how effective your content was in stimulating audience response and to what degree that response met or exceeded expectations.

Consider what is at stake if your content is not the best it can and needs to be. What efforts in terms of time, resources and investment have gone into the project? Has your return on investment (ROI) met and exceeded your expectations?

Objectivity

First, make sure that in making a decision your perspective is an objective one. Take an honest look at your content and be completely honest about self-assessing your capabilities with respect to your writing skills and equally as important, your level of knowledge and skills to effectively analyze and revise your work as necessary to bring it to a professional polish.

Seek an Outside Opinion

Have a colleague, family member, friend or other parties take your content for a test drive. Ask for their unbiased impressions of your work without any sugar coating thrown in…a straight up assessment or review, thumbs up or thumbs down! Avoid negative results by thoroughly examining your content before taking it to the next level. Beyond the surface level of the content and its delivery, are your reviewers finding a significant number of issues that require rewriting or correction?

Editing Decision Touch Points

The following is a series of keywords or phrases which need to be considered when deciding whether to engage a textual proofreader/editor for your content. These are the skills and expertise level indicators to consider as an expandable list (not all-inclusive) of the many elements of content development and revision that I do as a professional proofreader/editor:

authors               bibliography           book manuscript editing

bookmarks             border design          caption

change                markup charts          citations

clear formatting      cohesion               column orientation

columns insertion     content development    content layout

content sequence      copyediting            copywriting

cross-reference       developmental          document comparison

drop cap              editorial role         endnote

English editing       Flesch-Kincaid Standards

fluid progression     font face              font size

footnote              formatting             grammar

gridlines             headlines              hyperlinks

hyphenation           image alt text         image insertion

indentation           insert footer          insert header

line spacing          lower case             macro

margins               mark entry             mobile content

multiple page viewing outline level          page break

page breaks           page orientation       pagination

paragraph structure   postscript             problems

proofreading          publishing             punctuation

quick parts           readability           reader engagement      

reference navigation  references            review                 

reviewing pane        revision balloons     ruler                  

section breaks        sentence structure    signature line         

solutions             source management     special indents        

spelling              split window          storyline consistency

strikethrough         style guides          styles

subheads              subscript             substantive

symbols               table of authorities  tables

tables                text align            text box insertion

text wrap             thesaurus             track change review

trim size             typos                 upper case

watermark             web layout            word count

Common Misconceptions

A writer/author/creator’s greatest fear is that their content will be changed by the editor to the extent that their storyline, intent, meaning, and objectives could be seriously altered or compromised. Avoid such issues with a proofreader or editor before any editorial project gets under way.

The editor’s contract should clearly reflect that the integrity of their client’s work will be maintained during the process without clear and advance discussion and authorization from the client otherwise. The primary objective of the editor is to clarify any evident ambiguities or inconsistencies to content copy to enhance its delivery to the reader and to effect revisions that will correct typos, spelling errors, discrepancies in grammatical correctness, punctuation and sentence composition.

The ‘polish’ that an editor puts on a document, known as ‘proofreading‘ is meant to incorporate the correction of errors in spelling, grammatical and punctuation issues. More extensive ‘editing’ of a developmental or substantive nature is an analysis of the content through which to consult with the client to alert them that there are inconsistencies in the message delivery or storyline. The editor role does not incorporate re-writing of such content elements unless there has been an advance extension to the services agreement for the editor to do so. That kind of change, which involves greater involvement by the editor, will naturally add cost to the services agreement.

Good Story or Message Composition vs. Bad

As the writer, you need to be aware that if your storyline or copy content is mediocre in its development and does not pack the punch that it must have to achieve the desired results, resolving such issues is the responsibility of the author/writer/copywriter. I am writing this article for the various types of client projects I specialize in but the premise in this regard is the same. The writer of the content must develop their own individual skills in content development and delivery in order to realize the maximum possible success that they might achieve.

You may not possess the ultimate writing skills and technique to deliver that stellar content the first time around but if you are doing due diligence to do extensive research, studies and content refinement, your content quality and how it is received by your audience should improve as you gain experience. An editor or proofreader is NOT a ghostwriter. He or she will provide content analysis and revision. Writing better, more exciting or convincing/engaging content remains the job of the author/writer/copywriter.

Do Not Take Critique Personally

Repeatedly I have heard stories or, at times, experienced first-hand, that a client has taken an editorial comment as a personal affront. As the originator of that written content, own your responsibility as the content creator. Accept their role as editor for the objective analysis that they provide for the writer during the editing process. Do not allow that assessment to become personal or confrontational. The editor/proofreader is on your side! This seems a little off track for this article but the point is that you do not want to lose perspective to the extent that it dissuades you from engaging an editor for future projects. They are indeed there for a purpose.

Self-Editing Is Important

The first step to take once your content is completed, in a draft, is to set it aside for a few days, refresh and come back to your project to undertake a self-editing process. Take your time with this process. If you tear through the proofread at a break-neck pace only for the sake of meeting your publishing submission target date, the result is missed issues that require correction. Be very cautious about establishing hard deadlines for submission. Make sure that you have adequate time for the entire proofreading and editing process to be completed. That process is as important as the writing of the content itself.

Anticipate problems with the editing and polishing phases of your project. Base that anticipation of adequate time on the length and complexity of the project itself. Refer back to previous projects as a reference point and judge accordingly. If you do engage a professional editor to undertake the final analysis and revision process, establish a timeline that they anticipate they will require to do their part and wherever possible, keep your submission date a soft deadline.

I have seen clients get terribly anxious and stressed because they did not meet their original submission date. Maintain perspective on what is more important: a deadline for submission or the best possible quality content possible. In the case of a hard and fast deadline for submission in conjunction with a collaborative project involving a multiple of contributors, make sure that your advance lead time is more than sufficient for all of these processes to be performed thoroughly.

If issues of a more extensive nature arise such as storyline inconsistency, structural or copywriting revision is required, the time to do so is often greater than the original composition. Again, the priority has to be on the content quality first.

Multiple Round Editing Process

Be aware that the professional proofreading and editing processes involve several rounds of focus on specific elements of content analysis. Typically, that process, especially where the client elects both editing and proofreading services, are three or four separate rounds for complete, front to back content analysis and revision. The process is separated out into a multiple of rounds so that numerous elements of the analysis can be more effectively and efficiently addressed rather than an exhaustive all-in-one round which could result in issues being missed.

Type of Editing Services Needed

Editing can be considerably more extensive in the process that proofreading. They are two clearly defined and separate processes. Proofreading includes checking for typos, spelling errors, grammar, punctuation and sentence composition analysis. The author/writer needs to decide their writing strengths vs. what services they engage through an editor. If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

Selection of an editor should be one of the first things the client determines so that they are comfortable with cost and can plan accordingly. There will still be a review of that representative sample to help alleviate any concerns on the part of the editor. It is not unheard of that extraordinary issues crop up well into a manuscript or document that was not evident in the initial review. In that case, there is usually a provision in the editor’s contract for a fee adjustment if deemed necessary.

Proofreaders and editors should always address any extraordinary issues as soon as they become evident by discussing those concerns with their client. The editor should never undertake to do extra work without first having obtained advance permission from their client to proceed. In doing so, the relationship between the editor and client does not become strained or compromised.

An author or writer can always obtain more than one content sample review before deciding on whom to engage if they feel the need to do so. Obtaining a referral from a fellow author or writer can also go a long way to minimizing any issues that might arise during the course of the editing process.

Research to Find Experienced and Highly Regarded Editing Professionals

Taking the time to locate successful and highly regarded proofreading and editorial professionals will pay huge dividends in the long run. Most often people conducting a search for products or services will seek to find local professionals, failing which they will expand their search. Remember that editing professionals provide their services for clients around the globe.

Essentially all services for document proofing and editing/publishing are currently completed electronically on a laptop or desktop computer, often including client communications by email or online video calls through Skype, Google Hangouts or Facebook Video Calling. When long distance separates the editor and their client, communication by telephone is much less frequent for obvious cost control.

Take advantage of resources that are typically found featured on editorial professionals sites. Familiarize yourself with these resources as a means to enjoy direct benefit when it comes to your content development, editing, marketing and where applicable optimizing for search visibility. There are many free and paid tools for writers and editors that greatly enhance organization, accuracy, innovation, presentation, formatting and much more.

Great examples of highly informative and resourceful editing professionals include An American Editor and Louise Harnby whose sites are richly enhanced through resource and industry links. Both of these seasoned editorial experts are outstanding writers whose on-site blogs are highly informative. They are well worth a visit to advance your practical knowledge base and writing/publishing objectives. Both editors have published as have I.

Self-Editing is an Important Phase of the Project

It is a highly recommended part of the writing and publishing process that the author becomes involved in the editing phase with every publication project. Developing improvement in your proofing and editing skills is important. It will actually help your writing process as you become more aware of your content quality as you write. To a degree, it will help reduce the extent of proofing and editing required by a professional. It will not necessarily result in dramatic savings though, especially if it is your first time working together.

Even when self-editing your work, it is highly recommended that you plan to engage a proofreader/editor for the final analysis. An external, professional analysis of your work helps to alleviate the possibility of issues occurring. Your objectivity can affect how well you proof and edit because the writer tends to be over-confident about their editing capability and thoroughness when self-editing. Your process can become a glaze over because of over-confidence and close familiarity with your work. At the end of a long writing project, the writer’s eyes will be fatigued and that ‘lazy eye syndrome’ results in skipping over content and missing important issues that require correction.

There is also the level of editorial knowledge and skill to consider. In addition, focus on what your overall objective is for your project. Keep in mind, too, that the publisher will also anticipate a quality content submission, as they will not publish inferior products to the buying public. Doing so affects their revenue stream as well as your own. If you begin to receive negative reviews about content quality, consider the valuable lost time to pull the project out of retail, go through another editing process, resubmission and further publisher review before the project goes is finally approved and goes live again for public purchase.

Effective self-editing and proofreading demand that you develop advanced knowledge and skills. The English language is complex and typical elementary and secondary school studies of the English language and grammar are not at the level that is required for content development. Take the time necessary well in advance of any content distribution at a professional or publishing level, especially when self-editing is the sole or only level of editing planned for your project.

My recommendation here insofar as hiring a professional editor reflects what this industry supports wholeheartedly and not in a self-serving way. Whether you are a publishing author, content writer or marketing, and advertising copywriter, if you do not have the in-house expertise, you will have to outsource your proofreading and editing needs. You have enormous competition out there vying for the same market share and anything short of the highest possible quality will fall well short in terms of your bottom line.

Testimonials and Reviews Speak Volumes

Seek out solid testimonials from any editing professional you are considering. Nothing is more powerful than the direct word of previous or ongoing clients of the professional editor under review. You can see examples of my own client testimonials which are featured on not only the Testimonials page but also the Home page. Be aware that even testimonials published online or in print may not be the real deal so be prudent in following up directly with the writer of such testimonials if at all in doubt. Editing professionals will usually be more than happy to seek the permission of their raving clients for prospective client contact provided their client’s wishes as to the means of contact is satisfied.

Not every editorial professional has a university degree in support of and relevant to his or her services. Through years of experience in various vocations, where they possess an exceptional command of the English language, they are solid candidates in their own right. To avoid frustration and disappointment, opt for personal and professional editing for optimum results. Editing takes tremendous commitment to ensure a consistent, painstaking focus and effective process. There is no room to leave your desired results open to chance.

My sincere best wishes go out to everyone in the pursuit of excellence; getting it right the first and every time will help make a significant difference in your bottom line.

The Art of Successful Writing


bigstock-Portrait-of-beautiful-woman-re-38718040

It’s All About the Reader Experience

From as far back as my childhood days in elementary school, I clearly recall my fascination with words. Our teachers would speak with determined reference to the ways in which we needed to express on any number of levels through the many complexities of the English language.

Of course, in our very early elementary school teachings, those lessons were fairly simple in terms of what children that age could reasonably understand, absorb and apply both orally and in writing. Our preliminary task was to learn to speak the language and learn how to print, neatly and with deliberate and neat penmanship. Those words that we related to the most and were most often used in our day to day conversation were an early focus in class.

With each passing year, the importance of learning how to speak, read and write the English language became of greater importance, more and more complex. Grasping the spelling and meaning of each word was increasingly important, as was an understanding of just how complex the language really was. And then came the revelations of thesaurus content wherein lay a whole other dimension of the language through synonyms.

Well into the mid-secondary school period, we became more and more deeply engaged with the language through our studies. Written assignments became a routine part of our daily learning experience. Our teachers used the assignment process as a means to gauge our individual knowledge, understanding, and application of the language. I remember very early on feeling a sense of wonderment for the language, our language that was used in every conceivable aspect of people’s lives whether for personal reading, eventual writing as a profession, vocational requirement or creative endeavor.

Once into my secondary school years, I became increasingly aware of just how complex the English language was. We began to study not only advanced spelling of much more complex words and sentence structures but also a more in-depth study of the grammatical aspects of the language. This was pretty heavy stuff and for many, English Literature was tedious, boring, confusing and confounding. Many of my friends would question why we needed to know all that stuff, to begin with.

Well, when we eventually delved into the study of historical masters of the language, both structurally and creatively speaking, even more of the class began to wander their attentions to idle scribbling in their notebooks and banal daydreaming to while away the hours. Many would frequently check the big clock on the classroom wall, counting the minutes down to recess, a break from all of the mundane study sessions.

I look back on those days with a clear recollection of my own curiosity, no, fascination, with learning the English language, reading assignments and writing book reviews. The first time I held a novel in my hands was a milestone I will never forget. It was like diving into deep, darkened waters to unchartered depths of exploration and discovery for me. I kept those thoughts to myself because, quite frankly, kids in the day thought that anyone who was engrossed in reading studies was a ‘geek’, unusual to say the least.

Early into my high school days I began to have a sense that, even though I did not have a clear idea of what career direction I wanted to take, somehow I envisioned it having a lot to do with writing, communications, anything along those lines that would be an essential part of how I would make a living.

The study of poetry was for many an abstract, a nonsensical journey into waters that most students felt that they would never ply. What application could there possibly be through the use of poetic verse in our daily lives, right? Yet soon, I would develop an inspired thirst for the study of poetry. It led me to an appreciation for uniquely creative word, phrase and sentence composition that took a tremendous amount of focus to write effectively. Years later I would develop a lifelong passion for writing poetry.

I soon developed an even greater appreciation of how content development, in general, would form the basis, the foundation for more comprehensive writing applications that I would use throughout my entire career. My parents recognized my innate sense of excitement reading, especially fictional novels that I brought home from the library. One day mom brought home a box set of Hardy Boys mystery novels, hardbound and engagingly illustrated on the front cover.

I quickly became hooked on those Hardy Boy classics and read them repeatedly. My home library collection grew with each new publication and soon I would be into Nancy Drew mysteries and more. I would be fixated hour after hour, consumed by the gripping storylines, the suspense and wondering at the final outcome of each story, not wanting to put the books down when called for dinner. I would often read late into the night on weekends.

I loved the way the author developed his or her characters; their unique appearance and personalities, their voice, beliefs, interests, likes and dislikes, and their role in the story. And then there were the physical settings that surrounded individual scenes which rounded out the story. It all played out in my mind as a cinematic scene in a motion picture at the town theatre.

I recall punctuation being one of the more challenging elements of writing that I found difficult to grasp. I had an uncle who was a well-known journalist in both the newsprint and radio media. He was an artist and created the most incredible sketches with a graphite pencil that I have seen to this day. I began to read his newspaper articles, primarily editorial and sports columns but he later ventured in the most impassioned way into the political commentary and critique arena. He had a tremendous thirst for stirring things up and politics was just the thing. He struck out with a more unconventional and often controversial voice that had many readers incensed but truly got their attention and response. Those were my early lessons in reader engagement.

The more I read Uncle Gord’s columns, the keener my interest for writing became. I was fascinated about how he developed his storylines, how he captured interest and attention through the words he fashioned, how he painted a picture through every story told. The tremendous power and effectiveness of his word and phrase use and his very sentence composition was a marvel. I even fascinated at how each and every paragraph transitioned so fluidly to the next.

As a teenager, I was beginning to have a strong sense of where my career direction was meant to be. I decided to go on to college and study journalism. My interest and apparent strength lay in the printed media. I would work for newspapers, reporting stories from out in the field about any number of interesting subjects. I would interview important and learned people in order to establish and support my storylines.

While my passion for writing continued to grow during my college studies, the romance with journalistic reporting lost its shine, its polish for me and I did not pursue completion of those studies nor that vocation in life. Still, I would eventually forge on to management roles with a Crown Corporation that would be the beginnings of a life-long career in property and facility management. It was during those thirty years as a professional in the real estate management industry that I would apply extensive written communications on a daily basis.

Once I experienced the managerial roles in the real property industry, it was then that I quickly became aware of just how important effective written, and oral, communications would be in the course of my daily management and reporting of property operations to our clients. I was required to communicate in a clear, concise, informative and persuasive way, with clients from all walks of life. I would address property issues through all matter of supportive external service providers of daily or periodic services to our clients from trades-related contractors to architects, engineers, lawyers and industry professionals.

The strict rule of thumb within that Crown Corporation and all of the subsequent private sector firms that I was engaged by was to provide factually sound, informative and engaging communications and written reports to all clients and stakeholders. My accuracy and effective ‘voice’ through my written communications had to be delivered with the utmost clarity, consultative expertise and meticulous in its execution every single time documents were distributed from my desk. Critical decision processes were imminent from my communications.

Anticipating the extent of my focus on the written word moving forward after secondary school, I undertook to study intense, in-depth elective and college courses in English, grammar, and business management and communications as a precursor to my successive management years in a career that truly demanded exceptional oral and written communications skills. There would be absolutely no room for contextual error when it came to professional communications whether oral or written.

I learned the fundamentals of a storyline and communications development right from the opening sentence to set the voice and tone of the piece and what the reader could expect throughout its message, to the main body of the content delivery and final paragraphs that drew informative recommendations and conclusions. The content that I wrote was very often extensive in nature and complexity and was ultimately eight to ten or more pages in length. Even at that length, I was to cover a high volume of information and client recommendations in a clear and concise manner. Brevity to the point of confusion was never an option on the table. A lot was at stake if my message was somehow misconstrued.

The Art of Reader Engagement

The strength in communicating in an ‘engaging’ way goes far beyond mere logistics and factually informative report writing. In addition to writing highly informative content, the reader’s attention easily becomes distracted, especially the longer the overall length and depth of a piece is. Writing in a conversational voice becomes an essential element of reader engagement more now than ever before.

People’s time is harried; condensed into split seconds of engagement or distraction. Get to the point and give the reader what they are looking for and the sooner the better. Cut out superfluous content that would otherwise be characterized as ‘fluff’. Cut to the chase and make your point, especially from a content marketing perspective! What people will engage in is informative content that identifies the very problem they are experiencing and how best to go about fixing that problem, making their lives better, easier, more efficient, more cost-effective and enjoyable.

We often view ‘art’ as an ‘expression’, a unique and creative oral, written or painted/sculpted delivery of one’s thoughts or ideas whether spoken, on paper or online, even physically formed in an artful way that brings a pleasurable, inspired audio or visual experience to its audience. The beauty of any art form is strictly in the eye of the beholder…or is it? Is the perception of art by design for the divine graces of the beholder or is it mere aggrandization of its creator?

The art of reader engagement is all about the reader experience.

Today, when appealing to the emotions of your intended reading audience in writing, the critical element that delivers ties that bind is forming a connection with our readers through their emotional response to our content. Speak to your audience in a conversational tone…share with your readers through your own voice rather than second or third person.

When you relay a story as part of your message delivery, infuse the human touches that your audience can directly relate to. Consider a love story unfolding in your novel. What is the lighting like? Is it overpowering, glaring, unromantic or gently subdued? Are your characters yelling out to each other from separate rooms or are they close, but a movement’s touching away? How are they breathing? What are they gazing at? Are they resisting or embracing the imminent connection? What is the tone of their voice in conversation? Is it a matter of fact, suggestive, evocative?

How do we know we are making that important connection?

As writers, much of what we write is intuitive, off the cuff, instinctive progressions of ideas and circumstance which tend to lead the story where it is willed to go. It may follow our intended path of logical direction and flow but it also may weave its own directions between points A to B as would feel most natural under the circumstances.

We are a curious lot as creatives. We write as it feels good to ourselves. We develop a smug reliance on our instincts for brilliant situational development and resolution. Nancy is falling in love with Tom and that is how the story will end…right? Well, not necessarily. Writing as creatives, we hunger for what lies outside the box, the surprise element, a long way from what may seem logical.

In the literal sense, an artist will begin their project with very little or no sense of what they are about to create and allow the construction to go where it will. Here is what I, as a creative, experience when writing poetry or prose:

  • I first develop a conceptual idea for each piece.
  • As with a storyline, I envision a beginning, middle and an end.
  • I begin to write my piece from that concept.
  • I always have that ending in mind yet most often new ideas form in my mind and the piece takes on an entirely different direction and meaning.
  • I structure or shape my ending, my close, based on a new and fluid conclusion to the piece as it has progressed.

During its writing, I read back every word, every line, and every stanza repeatedly. Is its progression fluid, is it clear and engaging? With each new line, I read back again, always repeating that analytical process. I am incessantly reading back through the eyes of my readers, always. It is the reader experience that is paramount. Am I evoking an emotional response? Is it appealing and compelling for its intended audience or would it better be expressed another way?

I obsess on whether the reader is tearing up or grinning from ear to ear. Am I just being a coy and manipulative ass or am I producing something truly meaningful and never self-serving? Now, self-serving is a whole other matter to address and even though one’s content should never be overtly that, there is a quiet sense, as a writer, of the desired self-fulfillment, always. Still, my content always aims to resonate with its intended reader…without exception.

Content Revisions

Regardless of the genre or intended audience, whether a fictional novel, a university dissertation, business communication, content marketing or advertising copy, the primary objective is to write content that fully resonates with the reader. It has to echo, in other words, the reader should be able to relate personally to the content. It should invoke an emotional response. Editing or revision of content brings that content to its most clear and concise delivery while still delivering an enriching experience for the reader. The ambiguous becomes more clear, more appealing and a more natural progression toward the conclusion of the chapter or piece overall.

Revision fine-tunes, makes greater sense, hones in on specifics, filtering out redundancy, superfluous wording, laying bare a truer and more assuming path for the reader to walk along. When describing an action or reaction, use specific description to clearly explain a character’s train of thought to substantiate their response.

As you write, place yourself squarely in the shoes of the character in the moment. Each of their actions or reactions must emulate their personality under a particular circumstance and how that might change during other extenuating circumstances. It has to fit. If your reader does a quick about face there is an immediate and confusing disconnect. As the architect of the story, we need to always be acutely aware of the logical action and reaction that fits each situation and its participants.

In the writing process, if I have done my job you should be sensing the emotions of the characters and in response, you may well feel emotions of your own whether empathy or sadness, supportive or standoffish. In the course of reading, we experience our own sense of emotional responses, some that are powerful enough that our general response to similar circumstances in real life may change in kind. If we are going to interject an out-of-character response in the story we better resolve that displaced response with reasoning accordingly.

What does a creative writer do?

When I say ‘creative writer’ I am doing so from a fictional perspective as well as in the sense of written communications business to business or other specific targeted audience. We are ‘creatives’ in the sense of how we develop our content or copy. We develop the words and message for our intended audience and purpose, right?

We create or write and then were reread over and over again. Then we revise our content or copy through a series of tweaks as we examine our words, under the microscope, from every angle. Does it suit? Does it appeal? Does it invoke the intended response? Does it compel the reader’s own response and/or desired action? We must always read through the eyes of our audience.

We must always be mindful that each and every reader has their own personality, their own belief structure, their own likes, dislikes and reactions to what they see, what they hear and feel when they are reading. Our content should always compliment the reader’s intelligence and innate sensibilities, their potential personality, sense of humor and logic, wit and fancy.

Revisions are for the benefit of the reader and rightly so. Anticipate the changes being made during the editing process and how that might alter the reactions and responses of your readers in kind. Anticipate your readers’ perspective from various angles. As a writer, gauge your own responses as you read back your content and ask yourself how your varied and diverse readership would react in kind.

Build on your story through anticipation

Whether writing your first novel, business communication or advertising copy, it is essential that you write and revise through the anticipation of what it is your readers will be anticipating as they read progressively through your content and how they will react or respond. From a content marketing and advertising copy perspective, register a problem that you know your targeted audience is experiencing, build on the emotions being felt about that problem and show your audience how you can help them overcome that problem.

The approach to writing your novel is not dissimilar. Build a problem into a situation or scene, carefully anticipate your readers’ potential reactions or emotional responses and move the story or message forward with a most logical conclusion or solution to that particular problem.

Write with purpose and direction but the flexibility to allow for change

As writers, we fashion ourselves as conductors of an orchestra; flapping our arms and hands as directional overtures that guide our individual and collective musicians to act and react in response to the intended course of the composition score. As the music plays out in response to our direction, sometimes a wayward yet keenly enthusiastic and artistic soul among the collective throws in their own sense of musical prowess. As a conductor with an acute sense of hearing, you sense an errant series of notes, subtly off course yet curiously intriguing to be sure.

So you strike out for the cessation of sound as you awkwardly collect your thoughts. Then and without undue fuss request that the wayward musician replay that series of notes, audacity aside! Much to your astonishment, you, the masterful conductor, suddenly experience the unexpected; an alternate yet surprisingly pleasing and well-suited interjection of background accompaniment that works even better than the original score. What follows would be a rather furious recording of the new and preferred enhancement of the musical score, with a discreet nod to your ‘co-writer’ as subtle approval and signal to the collective to repeat the overture accordingly.

We must read back our work with an open and receptive mind to change.

Regardless of the source, our intuition becomes imperative in the moment. Trust your instincts, gauge your reader response and go with the subtle nuances of revision as the story or message progresses and as we read back repeatedly during the editing process.

It is the allowance for unexpected change that will shape and reshape our story or message in the most meaningful ways. As in life, we experience many twists and turns in the journey and must adapt to those changes which, for the most part, are positive. We can always alter our course when anticipated changes are not the most suitable to the storyline, message and solution conveyed.

Have you ever sat bolt upright in bed, shocked out of a dead sleep only to groggily awake to brilliant notions for a piece you are writing? Has it caused you to laugh out loud in the triumphant glory that such a critical idea would somehow startle you out of dream state, about your writing project no less, and render your storyline or copy superbly better conveyed? Well, I certainly have experienced that flash of unexpected light and regardless its origin it had me scrambling for the light switch and my pen and writing pad to get it down before the thought drifted in tatters out the open window!

Never take for granted the subtleties of revision on the winds of change. Some things were just meant to be!

Subscribe to the Lasting Impressions Editing Newsletter

© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved

%d bloggers like this: